Hospital fundraisers a snooze? Not this Chicago gala.

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Jessica Levco

Forget those stuffy black- and white-tie hospital galas.

For the past 12 years, the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Auxiliary Board has put on one of Chicago’s most buzz-worthy singles event, Summer Lovin’. But the evening isn’t just about great food and conversation—it raises major money for medical research.

The event started with 300 people as a “beer and brats” party at Northwestern’s law school courtyard downtown. But the following year, after it scored a partnership with Chicago magazine, the event expanded. For the past five years, it has garnered more than 1,000 people and several restaurant sponsorships and is held at the Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition, the editorial group from Chicago magazine picks the hottest 20 singles for its June/July issue; this year, a doctor and Northwestern board member were highlighted.

The goal for the board is to raise $100,000 in a two-year period. This money is given to a doctor who wants to do specific medical research. The majority of the $100,000 is from Summer Lovin’, but the board does host another event in the fall, along with a few third-party events that might pop up.

More than 40 doctors submit their proposals to the board (a representative from Northwestern Memorial Hospital helps the board sift through the applications and doctor-lingo). The $100,000 from the board is “seed money” for the doctor, and its purpose is to help the doctor generate more money and bigger grants for research.

This year, the board is supporting Dr. Andrew Naidech, who wants to research new therapies for stroke patients. The board gave him $50,000 last November and will give him the additional money this year. He’s been actively applying and receiving other grants for his research.

“For our board, it’s really exciting for us to see how far our dollars can go,” says Laura Beres, board president.

Mixing traditional and social media

The board ranges in age from 24 to 40. To hit its target demographic to market this event, it primarily goes where its audience is: online.

“We’re pretty deliberate about our use of social media,” Beres says. “Social media is the way most people in our age group find out about things. At our board meetings, our PR committee talks to us about how we can help drum up support.”

Here are six ways the board markets the event:

1. Summer Lovin’ has an active Facebook page. “All of our members, with the exception of one, are on Facebook,” Beres says. “They are constantly given mini-updates that they can copy and paste on their own Facebook page, with a link back to ticket purchasing.”

2. The website went through a major redesign this year. “Any time we send out any communication, we link to our website,” Beres says.

3. The Twitter account is active, with more than 100 followers. Frequently, the PR team tweets information about restaurants that are sponsoring the event, and their reps RT those tweets in response.

4. Grass-roots marketing is not forgotten. For example, board members went to a popular Chicago art fair and passed out “save the date” cards. The board also went on bar crawls to talk about the event. “We put ourselves where our audience is,” Beres says.

5. Traditional media still counts. Even though Chicago wrote a feature article about the event, there was also a full-page ad in the RedEye, an alternative daily tabloid. There will also be stories about the event on radio stations, Windy City Live, and a few other news outlets. “The week before the event gets a lot of press,” Beres says.

6. Partnering with other young organizations has been successful. For example, the team gives away a few tickets to staff at Chicago Sports and Social. In return, this group emails Summer Lovin’ info—twice—to its list of 20,000 recipients. “If two tickets are a $170 value, even if only two people buy from it, we’ll have broken even.”

To track which method works best, people are asked online how they heard about the event when they buy their tickets. Currently, it’s too early to track where people have heard about it this year, but traditionally, the majority of people say they heard about it from another board member or a strategic partnership, Beres says.

Ultimately, what does Beres thinks makes this event so successful?

“It’s for a great cause, most importantly,” Beres says, “but we’re combining the best things about Chicago—our philanthropic community, talented young singles, and our great restaurants.”

Interested in seeing what it’s all about? Purchase your ticket for tomorrow’s event here.

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